Mark Hudson’s third game in charge of Huddersfield Town ended in the same way as his previous two games had, in defeat. The balanced murmurings from a selection of fans suggests that some were pleased with the performance, if not the result against Reading.
A 2-0 home loss obviously makes for bad reading, but the overall performance of the team in relation to the season so far was at least heartening. Of course not everyone shares that opinion and there are plenty of fans justifiably angry about the result and the way the team wilted in the final 20 minutes.
Reading through the post-match reaction to the game on Saturday it got me thinking. Specifically I wondered about just how good our team actually is. We have spent the past two seasons in the Premier League and prior to that we performed admirably to achieve promotion.
On paper you would imagine that any team with the past three seasons that Town have had would be at least good enough to cut it in the Championship. For a team like that to be languishing at the foot of the table after 5 games would surely be unacceptable, but is it?
Let’s take a closer look at one or two areas of the squad and see if we’re overestimating or underestimating the quality at our disposal.
The Old Guard
Players like Jonathan Hogg, Elias Kachunga and Rajiv Van La Parra are rightly held in high regard by the fans. As stalwarts of the promotion campaign they should forever be remembered in a positive light by future generations of supporters.
But are they any good? Okay, I’ll rephrase that, are they good enough for an upper Championship team? Objectively you would have to say that they probably aren’t. Wait, hear me out…
When we achieved promotion to the Premier League we did so with a squad that was widely tipped to struggle in the Championship. Our squad of middling to lower Championship players was augmented with a handful of savvy buys from the continent and quality Premier League loans.
That promotion relied on several players exceeding their potential and quite frankly, playing out of their skins. The three players mentioned above along with a couple of others all played the best football of their careers, finding an extra 10% from seemingly nowhere.
After going on to do that once again in the first Premier League season, it’s only natural to expect them to level off. Christopher Schindler aside, we are probably placing far too much expectations on the shoulders of players who simply peaked at unsustainable levels a few years ago.
Perhaps I’m wrong, but it’s just my feeling that with the old guard, their days of over-achieving and playing beyond themselves have gone.
The Money Men
In this collective I’m going to refer mainly to players bought for substantial sums after our promotion to the Premier League and Florent Hadergjonaj.
These players came into the club at a time when we were basking in success and giddy with our new found wealth. Owing to our status in our new division, we were obviously forced to shop in different markets to other established Premier League clubs.
By our standards though, we spent a lot of money on players such as Isaac Mbenza and Adama Diakhaby. Other than their large fees – which are by no way a barometer of quality – what evidence do we have to suggest that they are quality Championship players?
I would suggest zilch. The evidence we have for most of those players is that they aren’t very good. After all, they were part of statistically one of the worst teams to have ever played in the Premier League.
We have seen most of them play poorly on a consistent basis, yet we expect so much more of them, why? Because of their fees? Because of the fact that they simply played in the Premier League?
On these players in particular I think we are expecting too much of them. For them to go from being bereft on confidence and performing horribly week in, week out to playing well in the Championship is somewhat of a stretch.
Trevoh Chalobah has been heralded as one of the brightest sparks in our current team, and whilst his performances have been encouraging, what is there to suggest he’s a top-end Championship player? Nothing.
He played for the Championship equivalent of Huddersfield Town last season in Ipswich Town and is still bedding into his current environment.
Then there’s Lewis O’Brien, arguably Bradford’ best player last season in a year which they sunk down to League Two with little to no fight.
Tommy Elphick? The man deemed not good enough by a struggling Aston Villa last season before being loaned out to Hull City. The man who Villa fans said “I told you so” about after his chest pass to Grabara on the opening day of the season.
Just like those mentioned above, these three have nothing about them which would suggest they can transform us into a top-end team in this division. Christopher Schindler, Terence Kongolo and Karlan Grant are amongst our better players, and are unsurprisingly playing pretty much to expectations.
I don’t think our squad is anywhere near as good as we think it is. Judging on past performances and current quality, I would say that we are probably good enough to be mid-table in the Championship this season – as I mentioned in my pre-season predictions.
Add a crippling lack of self-belief into the mix and it’s no surprise at all that we are where we are currently. In 2016/2017 David Wagner got an extra 10% out of his mid-table Championship team to achieve promotion.
This time around a lack of confidence is draining a similar squad of 10%, which has left them at the foot of the table at this early point. Town’s next manager will have to address that urgently and get this team performing to their capabilities as he searches for comfortable Championship consolidation.